Time to put aside distraction of Keane’s book
Dublin launch inappropriate and unfair on O’Neill and his team ahead of Gibraltar game
Gibraltar manager Allen Bula on his way to training at the Aviva Stadium yesterday afternoon. Photograph: Ryan Byrne
You may wonder how it came to this, that today we play our first home qualifier against Gibraltar. After all, prior to recent football events, our only sporting reference to the very small peninsula at the tip of Spain was in relation to that horse – which, like the rock itself, has been mired in controversy over the years.
Here I will hold my hands up and accept some responsibility for Gibraltar’s admission to Uefa’s top competition.
Back in March 2011, I had the bright idea of taking my Faroe Islands squad for a warm weather training camp near Marbella in the south of Spain in preparation for our Euro 2012 campaign. Just to get the players away from the wind and rain back home.
The week? The weather was atrocious and the rain in Spain fell mainly on the camp in which we resided.
Matches and training were postponed, cancelled, rearranged, and we ended up playing on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Three games in four days with a very weak squad, even by our standards.
Having agreed with a Spanish-based match agent to play some low-key games to test our new young group, I accepted a game in Gibraltar for the last day, which we lost 3-0 before a delirious home population.
Trek to play The officials were local. Daylight robbery would be a mild description of the bias.
The setting for the game was surreal. Having negotiated two border crossings, Spanish and British, we then crossed the airport runway to get to the cramped dressing rooms, which were a long, mazy walk from the pitch where the stormy Mediterranean seemed never far from encroaching over the wall.
And the pitch was a very old green hockey-style carpet covered with rubber chippings that made the bounce of the ball unpredictable.
To some embarrassment on our part, the Gibraltar FA proceeded to use the result to proclaim their right to be considered as a football stronghold. That they had beaten the mighty Faroe Islands so convincingly obviously had an impact – within the space of two years, Uefa had agreed their entry into club and international competition, despite resistance from Spain and Fifa.
Their stadium then would not pass entry standards to the League of Ireland. So for now they play their home games in Faro, Portugal, a 4½-hour bus journey from Gibraltar. One can only presume that there remains a tad of bad feeling among the Spanish football community since most of that journey is through Spain and past several of their stadiums.
But for today, they’ve travelled to Dublin.
They will be the worst of the minnows in the 2016 qualifiers. Unless their scouting network unearths quality players soon, I can see continuous hammerings. Martin O’Neill suggested they put up a stern resistance against Poland in Portugal a month ago. The fact that Poland led 5-0 after 58 minutes suggests otherwise.
While O’Neill and his players have insisted that they have not been distracted by the circus that has been the launch of that book this week, that is hardly true. The Dublin launch was inappropriate and unfair on O’Neill and his team in the build-up to these two games. I just don’t understand how Roy agreed to it, given his responsibility to Irish football and scorn for players and managers he perceives as lacking commitment.
Equally, I don’t understand his desire to criticise former team-mates Kenny Cunningham and Matty Holland, both of whom were dedicated to the Irish squad for many years. They were also competent players who were admired by the majority of their team-mates.
So, I’m hoping that the publicity around it all can now be put aside for the two upcoming games. Enough.
With the correct attitude and application we should beat Gibraltar handily enough. Anything less than that will annoy people and lead to further discussion on the timing of the launch of that book and the accompanying hullabaloo.
Let’s just get this done well, then head for Germany.